Harold Collins was chairman of the Memphis City Council and special assistant to the Shelby County District Attorney General when he was tapped as one of The New Tri-State Defender’s 2010 Men of Excellence inductees.
On Wednesday (June 1) he stepped into the role of chief administrative office for Shelby County government after a recent appointment by incumbent Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.
Much has happened for Collins in the intervening years, with the common thread being his upfront commitment to service. In a conversation with The New Tri-State Defender, he shared how he weighed whether to accept the CAO offer, what his administrative approach would be, and noted a commitment to service as a thread throughout his life.
As for service, Collins said, “My faith has a lot to do with that. We were put here to serve people, to serve God. And so regardless of the profession you choose, He gives you the gifts to do that profession. And my gifts are service and administration and organization. … And so what better way to gratify Him than to serve the people?”
In announcing the appointment, Harris said, “I am excited that Harold Collins has agreed to accept the position of chief administrative officer in this administration. Harold is dedicated to public service and has been an asset to Shelby County Government at the Office of Re-Entry and with the Division of Corrections. His long history of service, integrity, and commitment to this community are what make him a great leader for this role.”
Still, deciding to take on the role was not an automatic, said Collins. He asked Harris for “about four or five days to think about it.”
He prayed about it and talked with some of his advisors about it.
“I mean, it is no secret that my ultimate dream job was to be mayor of Memphis. And so making a commitment to him, to mayor Harris, meant that I would have to forego this mayoral election in ’23,” he said.
So, how did the scenario tilt to the decision he made.
“Well, one, talking to my wife, of course, and (thinking about) doing another campaign. A lot of people don’t know, I had to quit my job in the district attorney’s office to run for mayor the first time. And so, unlike these other candidates out here, they still had jobs. And we had to sacrifice an awful lot the first time. …I put my family through a lot to do that.”
On the plus side: “I get to serve maybe not as mayor, but still influential and impactful in a major way. And not only just Memphis, but all of Shelby County.”
Lastly, said Collins, “It’s still a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity. Not very many people get asked to serve as the CAO of the largest county in the State of Tennessee.”
Starting as CAO, Collins said his mindset and focus will be to listen.
“The mayor has assembled a wonderful team already. And so my goal would be to come in and to listen to them because they are what I consider to be the experts in their particular field of profession. My goal would be to listen to them, figure out where we could enhance, pull maybe a couple of things together, give some direction, but above all, I’m going to do more listening than anything.”
Then, after a while, Collins envisions sharing “some things that I think we could certainly work on and then enhance and improve, hopefully for the next four years.”
That would be done, he said, in alignment with the goals he said Harris already has: “accessible healthcare, focusing on serving those persons who come back into our community from incarceration, and stressing education, like he has done in the past. Those are some of his pillars that he stressed going forward to the citizens of Shelby County to be re-elected.”
Harris, who won the Democratic Party nomination, faces Memphis City Councilman Worth Morgan, who is carrying the banner for the Republicans.
As for his administrative style, Collins said, “My style is, everybody in the room is competent. And so you speak to your particular area of expertise because that’s what you are competent in. And the room is balanced because of that.
“I don’t lead from the top of the table. I lead from the middle of the table so that the room can be balanced and everybody’s opinion can be considered and thought through.”